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Smithsonian Folklife Festival
Water Ways: Mid-Atlantic Maritime Communities

Boat-building and Mast-making

Wooden boat-building shops once dotted the landscape of the rural Mid-Atlantic maritime region. Some grew into large operations, but many remained small workshops in a corner of a shed belonging to a fishing family. There they would stock materials not only to build boats, but also repair fishing equipment such as nets, dredges, and engines. Small boats like skiffs were often built under the trees in a backyard in places like Harkers Island, North Carolina, "seasoned by the same wind and weather they were built to withstand," as a local writer says.

The art of wooden boat-building with native materials like Atlantic white cedar was in danger of disappearing in many Mid-Atlantic communities such as Harkers Island, North Carolina, and Tuckerton, New Jersey. In these and other communities across the region, local museums try to preserve this art by providing space, tools, and materials and hiring older boat builders to demonstrate and teach. Today, craftsmen like Gus Heinrichs, who makes "Barnegat Bay sneakboxes" and other local boat types at the Tuckerton Seaport boat shop, are passing on their skills to a new generation of wooden boat builders.

At the Festival, ship restoration workers shaped and raised a new mast for the Joy Parks skipjack, and boat builders from North Carolina and New York's Long Island worked on projects.

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